Monday, January 30, 2017

Hermanus & Stanford - Western Cape - South Africa

On the recommendation of our South African friend Jan, we decided to take the scenic route around the coast from Gordon's Bay to Hermanus.  The driving in the late afternoon was simply stunning with the sunlight hitting the hills and glittering off the waves.  The main roads are of a good standard with plenty of spots to pull over along the way to stop and enjoy the scenery, and if in season, spot southern right whales.   Whilst we didn't have the benefit of being in season, we had the pleasure of the great weather and fabulous views.

Taking a pit stop for a photo with our little Kia

Views along the R44 to Hermanus
En route we happened upon a sign simply saying 'Penguins', and although time was getting on a bit we decided to check it out and headed towards a place called Betty's Bay.  After a fairly short detour, following the penguin signs we ended up in a gravel parking area and headed over towards a waddle of penguins relaxing in the evening sunshine.  We were able to follow the route to get close to them and whilst you're not supposed to touch them, they don't seem inhibited by human presence.  There were hundreds of penguins by the boardwalk and all along the coastline, as well as a fair amount of dassies.

African penguins at Betty's Bay

African penguins at Betty's Bay
Our poor Kia Picante had to endure an 8km stony, potholed gravel road to negotiate in order to get to our destination, Mosaic Private Sanctuary, but when we finally arrived we were delighted to find out that we had been upgraded to a 9 person cottage named Duminy.  It was far more than we could have ever imagined in the way of accommodation, beautifully designed to let in the light and with natural materials.  Because we arrived after dark we didn't get the full spendour of the location being on the Hermanus Lagoon, and instead enjoyed the luxurious and spacious self-catering accommodation that had been arranged as part of our tour package by Kruz Africa.

Kitchen/living room in Duminy Cottage, Hermanus Lagoon
The next day however, after a rainy and stormy night we were able to witness Hermanus Lagoon in all its splendour.  Our location was like being within a painting, one that adapted and shifted moods depending on the weather and time of day.  There was nothing to hear but the light breeze and various birdsong.  We could enjoy doing as much or as little as we wanted here after our busy time in Cape Town.

Patio view at Mosaic Private Sanctuary, Hermanus Lagoon

Duminy Cottage at Mosaic Private Sanctuary, Hermanus
For me, the most picturesque time was at dusk where the sun hung low in the sky and exaggerated the contours of the mountains and brought out the moody contrasts in colours.  This is best exemplified in the excellent picture that Kate took that evening from the lagoon edge.

Hermanus Lagoon from Mosaic Private Sanctuary
On Friday 27th of January we decided to take the trip into the town of Hermanus where we could soak up the sights and whilst it wasn't whale watching season, you never know here as Hermanus is the place to be when it comes to land based whale watching.   From Mosaic, it was around 30 minutes or so into town and we enjoyed pottering around, doing a little clothes shopping and visiting a charity shop to get a few CDs for the car.  At the seafront we were joined yet again by those wonderful dassies.  We enjoyed relaxing and looking out to sea with these critters close by.

Dassie on the rocks in Hermanus, South Africa
The dassies got even closer when a local man called them over, they seemed to recognise his voice and scampered up the cliffs to where he was standing, waiting with bread in hand.  They were jumping all over him, even biting him which is why I was hesitant when he handed over some bread and suggested we starting feeding them too but to pay attention to make sure they all got a feed!  I soon had dassies on my shoulders too, to the delight of this local gentleman.

Dassie in Hermanus, South Africa

Helping a local feed his dassies in Hermanus
We were recommended a restaurant by a South African friend of ours for an early dinner.  It is called Bientang's Cave, it's wedged into the coastline at Hermanus and would be relatively difficult to stumble upon unless you knew of it.  It's a great place to dine and whale watch when the season is right, but regardless of the whales it's a unique location and a great spot to enjoy the coastal views whilst tucking into some great cuisine and be on the receiving end of friendly and personal service.

Sharing seafood platter at Bientang's Cave, Hermanus

Kate enjoying her seafood and wine at Bientang's Cave
 After dinner, we took the opportunity to do a shop for another braai, as the BBQ facilities at our self-catering cottage were tremendous.  After the shop we played a little dominoes and went to bed eagerly anticipating our white shark cage dive the following day.

Surprisingly, we didn't need to be at the office/slipway of the company, White Shark Projects, until around 12.30.  In the past we had typically been informed that the morning is the best time to see marine life.  Tom, the biologist working for the company explained that it shouldn't matter and that sharks are relatively unpredictable creatures.  It was great having a biologist to answer questions and explain the plight of great whites and how their numbers are unfortunately dwindling due to pressures imposed by the fin industry and clumsiness of commercial fishing methods.

After an important safety talk, we boarded the boat and made the 15 minute journey to the site.  Whilst there ever a guarantee of seeing anything, we were excited as we had heard the group before us had seen 4 sharks, and the morning group 6!  Not only that, but we were in the best possible location to view great whites, Gansbaai.  When we arrived at the site, there were a couple of other boats anchored nearby, then we put on our wetsuits and one of the crew laid the bait as we waited... and waited and waited.  It must have been for nearly an hour and a half and we were beginning to lose faith when suddenly one of the crew yelled 'shark' and we looked over to see the torpedo like body cruising just below the surface by the side of the boat.  It was majestic, and whilst it wasn't there for very long we were so happy to have seen it.  The next step was to get into the cage and wait for it to pass, the crew enticing it with the bait (although not letting it bite).

We were using the 'breath hold' method, i.e. without scuba gear.   So with our masks, the 6 of us in the cage would take a breath when the crew mentioned there was something to see and put our heads towards the front of the cage as, hopefully, the shark made a pass close by.  Into the cage we went as we waited... and waited... and waited.  Eventually it looked like there was nothing to see, the other four got out of the cage but Kate and I decided to wait it out for as long as we could.  It ultimately paid off as our shy, lone, shark made the briefest of passes quite close to the left hand side of the cage before disappearing into the depths.  Whilst this had been a special moment for us, the crew were disappointed as it had been their worst shark-viewing experience in a long time and decided to compensate us with vouchers for another trip, which was a really nice touch.

That evening we fired up the braai and enjoyed our great value meat and wine for our last evening at Hermanus Lagoon.

Yes there are only two of us
Preparing the meat for the Braai
Kate arranging the drinks for dinner

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